I posted some of this in my impressions thread, but now that I have upgraded my cartridge to a BENZ ACE RED L (instead of Ortofon Blue M2) I can hear a much bigger improvement using the Nighthawk. Prior to the BENZ I was hearing the Nighthawk open up with burn-in using the Granite Audio phono preamp burn-in CD, and it wasn't making much in the way of changes by the time I installed the new cart (maybe 150-200 hours total on F-117 by then).
The Ortofon cart had to have been a bottleneck before, as the differences between my cheap GEMsound preamp and the Nighthawk were very noticeable but not huge. But with the BENZ ACE RED there is so much more musical information being pulled off the vinyl and revealed by the Nighthawk, which the GEMsound preamp just doesn't present to me at all. And, the GEMsound is less dynamic and less involving to listen to, even though with the Ortofon it sounded identical to an NAD PP2 preamp I had for 3 weeks. Now with the new cart, it's like comparing a $99 portable amp to a $1200 desktop amp.
I kept saying before that I wasn't all that excited about the effort of cleaning LPs and flipping discs for the sound that I was getting, but at least now I have better idea just how much more information is on the vinyl that I was missing.
I was into vinyl from the mid 70's (actually 1974 with Ringo Starr's "You're Sixteen") to 1991 when my Harmon Kardon TT died. There was a 7 year overlap with owning CD's starting in 1984 when I got my first $800 Technics CDP when I graduated college (I won money in Vegas). So, I didn't bother to replace the dead TT because I liked the better signal to noise ratio and continuous 70 minutes of play with CDs. When the TT died I didn't have high enough resolution gear to appreciate the vinyl vs CD comparison, as my Quad ESL-57, MK Sub and Heathkit 250-watt amp were also gone, and I was driving Polk SDA CRS speakers with a 40 watt Kenwood (they really like a big room an a lot of power). With a Woo WES and Stax O2 Mk1 or HE60 (or ZDT with HD800) I am hearing every little detail.
I'm still unsure about how much I like cleaning LP's and flipping them over after 2-6 songs (depending on RPM and pressing). IF I hadn't also recently upgraded to a Perfectwave DAC which sounds beautiful with 24/96 hi-res downloads, I think the Nighthawk/BENZ combo would be on top vs my Digital Link III or mini-DAC, despite all the work involved to listen properly. I'm still afraid my TT rig will just be for show, or for showing off when I have someone over, and that it wont get used that much for actually enjoying my listening.
Regardless, Ray has a fantastic product here, which one must be aware is limited by the associated gear like cartridge, tonearm, turntable, interconnects, and vinyl - it seems to me that the better the cart or other gear is, the better the Nighthawk can show off what it is really capable of doing.